Healthy Macaroni Salad loaded with fiber rich pasta, crispy veggies and crazy easy with a perfect balance of sweet and creamy healthy dressing. It’s a sure hit at your next barbecue or picnic!
Table of contents
Come summer, we all relax a bit and want to soak up the weather as much as we can. I am sure I speak for all of us when I say the last thing on my mind is cooking while sweating.
This healthy macaroni salad is an epitome of healthy summer comfort and relaxation. What I love about big batch salads is that you make it once and eat all week.
And honestly I have enjoyed this salad for 6 days now.
This macaroni salad is made healthier but tastes like a real deal. It’s truly easy and healthy and a must for your next summer barbecue. Especially if you add a bit of cheddar cheese.
Everyone who will taste it, won’t think it’s a low fat version.
Ingredients You Will Need
Traditional macaroni salad includes elbow macaroni “swimming” in sweet mayo dressing. While there may be different veggies added, classic additions are celery, red pepper and shredded carrots.
We add even more veggies, fresh herbs and pickles. The dressing is lightened up with low fat yogurt. Let’s take a look at main ingredients for our healthy macaroni salad:
- Pasta: You can use whole wheat, gluten-free or any elbow macaroni.
- Veggies: Celery, carrots, red bell pepper and red onion is what I used. You can also add tomatoes and olives. Substitute half of carrots with grated sharp cheddar cheese, so good!
- Dressing: It includes a bit of avocado oil mayo, 2% plain yogurt or Greek yogurt, pickles, sugar, vinegar, fresh garlic and dill, salt and pepper. I would not use all yogurt because salad will taste bland. And sugar is a must! Not maple syrup or honey!
Other popular mix-ins include chopped hard-boiled eggs, crumbled bacon and chives. Feel free to use what you like and have on hand!
How to Make Healthy Macaroni Salad
All you need is one bowl in which you make the dressing, then add chopped veggies and cooked pasta. How easy is that?!
Start by picking a large salad bowl that can fit all ingredients.
Continue by cooking elbow macaroni in a pot with lightly salted water. Salt prevents pasta from sticking. Cook until al dente, so salad isn’t mushy, undercooking by a few minutes as per suggested cook time on a package.
Then drain pasta in a colander and let it sit to cool off for 5-10 minutes while you are getting other ingredients ready. You can also rinse it with cold water to speed up the cooling but make sure to drain well after.
It is OK if pasta is a bit warm, so I personally skip rinsing.
Make sure not to overcook pasta! This will ensure moist macaroni salad for days and will prevent it from drying out.
While pasta is cooking, make dressing by combining yogurt, mayo, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, pickles, garlic and dill in the salad bowl. Stir well and set aside.
Sugar and pickles make this dressing. So I recommend you use white, cane or coconut sugar and not maple syrup. The amount is very minimal and still keeps this healthy macaroni salad light compared to classic macaroni salad from the deli.
Also prep veggies while pasta is cooling. Finely chop celery, red onion, seed and chop bell pepper, peel and grate carrot.
Chop veggies same size or smaller than your pasta. Not larger!
Any color of sweet bell pepper will work. I used local greenhouse burgundy one. Also green bell pepper will add a nice bitter taste, if you love it. I do!
Then add your cooked macaroni. It is OK if they are warm a bit, the dressing won’t curdle.
Even if you have only 30 minutes, I recommend to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate. For up to 2 hours is better. This time will allow all ingredients “marry each other” and any creamy salad just tastes best cold. So good!
If you have to serve it right away, not the end of the world though.
What to Serve with the Salad?
- Greek chicken kabobs
- Grilled chicken thighs
- Cilantro lime chicken
- Skillet gluten-free cornbread
- Instant Pot pulled pork
Expert Tips and FAQs
- Make sure to not overcook pasta. Cook it al dente!
- Chop all veggies same size as pasta size or smaller.
- Don’t use 0% fat yogurt as it will taste bland.
- You can use leftovers of my healthy Greek yogurt veggie dip for a dressing option.
- Add some sharp cheddar cheese instead of carrots for extra flavor and if you are feeling naughty. Also chopped hard-boiled eggs and crumbled bacon will be great!
By not overcooking the pasta. Al dente firm pasta doesn’t absorb the dressing as fast as mushy soft macaroni.
No, you don’t have to but you can. Pasta will have 10-15 minutes to cool off while you are chopping vegetables. Just make sure to drain it in a colander and not leave in pasta water.
Storing Leftovers and Making Ahead
Refrigerate leftovers in a glass airtight container for up to 5 days. What is great about this healthy macaroni salad recipe is that even on day 5 it is still creamy. Because it has a lot of juicy veggies, the dressing stays always loose.
So be sure to give it a good stir each time before serving and incorporate the dressing from the bottom of the container. And your salad will stay creamy and not dry for days.
To make ahead, refrigerate dressing in a jar separately. Add pasta and veggies to a large salad bowl and cover tightly with a plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Combine before serving and let stand for 2 hours.
More Pasta Salad Recipes to Try
- Mediterranean orzo salad
- Caprese pasta salad
- Tomato pasta salad
- Mediterranean pasta salad
- Shrimp orzo salad
More Healthy Summer Salad Recipes
Healthy Macaroni Salad
For the Dressing
- Cook pasta as per package instructions undercooking by 2-3 minutes or until pasta is al dente, cooked but firm. Drain pasta and let cool for 5 minutes.
- While pasta is cooking and cooling, make the dressing by combining in a large salad bowl yogurt, mayo, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, pickles, garlic and dill. Stir. Also prep veggies.
- Add warm pasta, carrots, bell pepper, celery, and red onion. Stir gently and well until combined.
- It’s best to let macaroni salad refrigerate for 2 hours to allow flavors “marry” each other. But you can serve it immediately as well.
- Pasta choice: You can use any white, whole wheat or gluten-free pasta. Any small shape pasta works.
- Cheddar cheese: Replace some of grated carrots with grated sharp cheddar cheese. So good and a bit naughty!
- Skip mayo: Use all yogurt. You can also use 0% yogurt but macaroni salad will have less flavor.
- Store: Refrigerate in a glass airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Make ahead: Refrigerate dressing in a jar separately. Add pasta and veggies to a large salad bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Combine before serving and let stand for 2 hours.